We conclude the hoshanot service each day of Sukkot by citing a pair of verses from King Shlomo’s conclusion to his famous prayer which he recited at the dedication of the First Temple: “And these words, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, shall be before the Lord day and night, to perform justice for His servant and for His nation, Israel, according to the needs of each and every day, in order that all peoples of earth know that the Lord is God; there is none other” (Melakhim I 8:59-60). This dedication occurred during Sukkot (Melakhim I 8:2), making it an appropriate plea to incorporate into our special Sukkot prayers.
The phrase “la’asot mishpat” (“to perform justice”) in this verse is unclear. What exactly does Shlomo mean when he beseeches God to perform “mishpat” for Am Yisrael each and every day?
The Radak explains that the word “mishpat” is used in this verse the way it is used in Sefer Shemot (21:9) in reference to a husband’s obligations to his wife (“mishpat ha-banot”). There, this word denotes one’s day-to-day needs that must be cared for. Thus, Shlomo beseeches God to care for Benei Yisrael and provide their needs each and every day.
Rashi, however, understands that Shlomo here asks the Almighty “li-tvo’a elbonam mi-yad ha-oyeiv” – to defend their honor before enemy nations. This explains the connection between this phrase and the next verse – “in order that all peoples of earth know that the Lord is God…” Shlomo here asks God to help maintain Benei Yisrael’s esteem in the eyes of the other nations of the world, so that Benei Yisrael can fulfill their mission of representing Him to all of mankind. When Benei Yisrael are humiliated and disgraced, this brings dishonor to the Almighty Himself, as we are unable to properly represent Him and show the other nations His greatness and His expectations of the world’s inhabitants. Shlomo therefore implored that God should “perform justice for Your servant and for His nation” – to see to it that Am Yisrael is judged favorably in the eyes of other nations, so that He will be recognized by all peoples in the world.
Shlomo recited this prayer at one of our nation’s most glorious moments, when they completed the first Beit Ha-mikdash, and the divine presence rested among them. This period also marked the peak of Benei Yisrael’s glory, the time when they earned the esteem of the entire world. Shlomo realized that the people would not always remain at this exalted level, that there would be times when they would disappoint God and fail to maintain the lofty standards that He expects of them. And so Shlomo begged God that even when the people err and fail, their honor among the other nations would be retained. He begged that God would continue protecting His nation’s reputation even when they fail to meet His high expectations, so that even then, they could continue fulfilling their mission of serving as His representatives to all mankind.